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Mykhaylo KOFEL





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Byzantine Catholic Church monk-in-training
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: March 25, 2001
Date of arrest: Next day
Date of birth: 1982
Victim profile: Sister Michelle Lewis, 39 (Byzantine Catholic nun)
Method of murder: Stabbing with knife
Location: Miami-Dade County, Florida, USA
Status: Sentenced to 30 years in prison on February 10, 2005

Knives seized in investigation of nun killing

By Ellis Berger - Miami Bureau

April 11 2001

MIAMI -- Homicide detectives say the monastic trainee who is charged with murdering a nun at Holy Cross Academy may have been writing a thesis on the death penalty while taking classes at Barry University.

Two days after they arrested Mykhaylo Kofel, 18, in the murder of Sister Michelle Lewis, police used a search warrant based on his confession to remove items from a house that Holy Cross owns near the university.

On a form describing what was taken into custody, detectives list three steak knives, a bloody sheet and the central processing unit of a personal computer.

They say in the affidavit for the warrant that the steak knives match one found at the murder scene on the grounds at Holy Cross.

Kofel and other monastic students taking classes at Barry have been using the house in Miami Shores rather than making the 50-mile round trip to the academy near Kendall, a spokesman for the academy confirmed Tuesday.

County property records show the church bought the three-bedroom house in December.

The lead investigator, Miami-Dade County homicide detective Arthur Nanni, says in a March 28 affidavit that Kofel confessed to the killing and "told detectives about frustrations and concerns that he had living at Holy Cross Academy."

In his confession, Kofel says that he was sexually molested over four years by Abbot Father Gregory F.G. Wendt and the Rev. Damian J.A. Gibault, the two senior clerics at Holy Cross, and verbally abused by Sister Michelle.

Through private attorneys and other spokesmen for Holy Cross Academy, the clerics adamantly deny Kofel's allegations of abuse. Kofel's attorney, Assistant Public Defender Edith Georgi, declined to comment on the search or the so-called death penalty thesis.

Sister Michelle Lewis, the victim.


Innocent plea at arraignment, prosecutors seeking death penalty

Friday, April 6, 2001

MIAMI - Prosecutors will seek the death penalty against the 18-year-old Byzantine Catholic Church monk-in-training charged in the slaying last month of a nun at a church affiliated school.

Mykhaylo Kofel, 18, brought to the Holy Cross Academy campus four years ago from Ukraine, pleaded innocent to a two-count grand jury indictment, charging him with first-degree murder and armed burglary with assault or battery, at a Thursday arraignment. He was being held without bond Friday at Miami-Dade County Jail.

At the time of his arrest March 26, however, police said Kofel confessed to the slaying.

Kofel was arrested for the stabbing death the day before of Sister Michelle Lewis, 39, who lived with another Byzantine Catholic nun in a home on the campus that holds the academy, where she taught. The campus also houses a Byzantine monastic order, where Kofel had lived the past four years.

Meanwhile, Friday's editions of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported that police also were investigating a separate allegation of sexual battery at the private church school in the Kendall neighborhood southwest of Miami.

Citing unnamed police sources, the newspaper reported that that other probe began the same day Kofel was arrested, but was not aimed at either Kofel, nor Lewis.

"We are investigating an allegation of lewd (and) lascivious fondling of a child between Jan. 1, 1997, and Jan. 1, 1998," Detective Ed Munn, a spokesman for the Miami-Dade Police Department, said when asked about the sexual abuse probe report in the Sun-Sentinel, which is based in Fort Lauderdale.

Asked if that investigation was at Holy Cross Academy, he said: "We can't give out address or the names involved because it's a sex crime."

A Holy Cross spokesman denies the allegations.

"It is absolutely untrue," said Joseph Blonsky, a Holy Cross board member. "We have already suffered two incredible blows."

Also at the arraignment, Kofel turned down an offer by school officials to hire an attorney for him, and instead was appointed Assistant Public Defender Edith Georgi.

Circuit Judge Manuel Crespo then granted Georgi's motion asking that four other Ukrainian youths studying at Holy Cross to become monks be required to get court permission first if they want to leave the country.

Testimony by the four students, Georgi told the judge, is "material to defendant's preparation of the case."

In an uncommonly similar move, Assistant State Attorney Gail Levine, the prosecutor in the case announced she will subpoena witnesses. She says church intransigence has complicated the case,

Those developments followed a flurry of lawyer hirings by the school's insurance carrier for each potential witness, including top school officials, another nun and a school maintenance man.

That brought to six the number of private lawyers involved in the case, beyond prosecution and defense attorneys.

"This is an extraordinary situation. No one really knows how to proceed," said Blonsky.

"Everyone is in shock and confused. In an abundance of caution, the school's insurance company has provided an attorney for everyone. We all pray that the situation will resolve itself."

Mykhaylo Kofel, under arrest.


The "I was abused" Defense Strategy

February 10, 2005

The defense strategy to use?...Claim abuse by priests...No proof is required, one's word is sufficient.

MIAMI (AP) -- An apprentice monk pleaded guilty Thursday to stabbing and beating a nun to death and got 30 years in prison in a deal with prosecutors, who offered him leniency because of evidence he was molested by two priests.

Mykhaylo Kofel, 22, admitted killing 39-year-old Michelle Lewis, whose nude body was found stabbed more than 90 times in 2001 in her residence at Holy Cross Academy in Miami-Dade County. Kofel had studied at the school for five years.

Kofel, who is Ukrainian, said two priests at the school sexually abused him while he was training with a Byzantine Catholic monastic order.

Kofel pleaded guilty to second-degree murder... prosecutor Gail Levine said she believed Kofel (about being abused), and that led to the plea bargain.


Monk in training says he killed nun

Under a deal, he pleads guilty to second-degree murder in the beating and stabbing of the nun.

February 11, 2005

MIAMI - An apprentice Byzantine Catholic monk pleaded guilty Thursday to charges in the beating and stabbing death of a nun in 2001 after prosecutors agreed to a reduced sentence.

Mykhaylo Kofel, 22, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and armed burglary and was sentenced to 30 years in prison. He was originally charged with first-degree murder and could have received the death sentence or life in prison.

Kofel, a Ukrainian, was training with the Byzantine Monastic Order of the Eastern Orthodox Church when he stabbed Michelle Lewis, a 39-year-old Greek Catholic nun, more than 90 times. Her nude body was found March 25, 2001, in her residence at the Holy Cross Academy in western Miami-Dade County, where Kofel studied and she taught.

"I am really sorry. I want to take full responsibility for my actions," Kofel told the court Thursday. "If I could, I would give my life for hers. Murder is wrong no matter what."

Kofel, who was 18 when the murder occurred, told authorities two priests at the school, Abbott Gregory Wendt and Damian Gibault, sexually abused him. The priests say Kofel is lying, but prosecutor Gail Levine said she believes him, which led to the plea agreement.

She said the investigation into the abuse claims continues.

"We have, from the very first day, denied the allegations of Kofel," said Richard Hersch, Gibault's lawyer. Hersch said many agencies, including the FBI, have closed their investigations into the abuse because there was no evidence.

Holy Cross Academy has since closed.

In court Thursday, Lewis' mother, Bev Lewis-Mercury, cried as she read a letter she wrote to Kofel. Her daughter became a nun in 1990, giving up a well paid job as an insurance actuary.

"I want you to know where she is now. She is in heaven," Lewis-Mercury said. "Your murder of her was so vile and brutal I was not even allowed to see her to say goodbye."

Circuit Judge Manny Crespo denied Lewis-Mercury's request to have Kofel locked up with photographs of the crime scene every March 25, the murder's anniversary. Crespo said he had no authority to make prison officials do that.

Crespo said this case was one of the most tragic he has seen and that although Kofel seems to be more mature now than when he killed Lewis, it remains an "intolerable act."

Crespo added that the outcome was "a very lenient sentence, a very lenient resolution."

Kofel's attorney, assistant public defender Edith Georgi, said her client has "accepted full responsibility for what he did" and others should do the same.

"People who have wronged him should take responsibility for what they have done," Georgi said.


Mykhaylo Kofel, 22, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder.



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